Thursday, May 13, 2010

You Never Really Know...

Hi everyone. Here in Japan the weather is getting warmer and nicer, and I couldn't be happier. For a few weeks there, we had horrible weather. It was rainy and cold for much longer than usual, and it put a real damper on the cherry blossom season this year. Last week what Golden Week, a series of national holidays where it seems like everyone in Japan makes a great exodus at the same time. I usually choose to stay home during this time, and this year was no exception.

I have started my next coaching class, and despite feeling a bit hesitant prior to the class starting, after our first class I felt motivated and ready to continue my studies. This class is much smaller than my intro class, with only 6 students. We will be full-on coaching during our classes with volunteer clients and receive evaluations afterwards. These observations are stressing me out a bit, because being watched and evaluated always makes me nervous. However I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Today's entry is something I've been pondering in my head for a while. I wasn't quite sure of the focus of the story or how it would be of benefit to those of you who are reading. But the two experiences I will talk about greatly helped me to be more understanding and compassionate with others. Because you never really know what's going on behind the scenes with another person, and their obnoxiousness / defensiveness / attitude could have very different origins from what you might assume in your daily interactions. Being more "neutral", for lack of a better term, will decrease your stress and irritability, and allow you to conserve your mental energy for other tasks.

These two stories in particular involve individuals who were not abrasive or offensive, but from these interactions I was able to alter my reactions or assumptions with other, more stressful situations, and it has really helped.

A lot of you know that I teach ESL part-time. This involves interacting with dozens of different people every day. A lot of these people can really try my patience, especially when I'm having a bad bout of insomnia. One particular student started coming in for lessons about two months ago. He seemed very upbeat and motivated about his studies, which is a rare treat in the Japanese ESL industry. However, the first time we worked together, he plopped himself down across from my next and matter-of-factly said,

"My wife just died, so I'm here to learn English."

I was having a particularly good day that day, and this confession out of the blue floored me and really bummed me out. (I have since learned to protect myself from being too affected by these random confessions. Happens more than you would think.)I was speechless for about 5 seconds but expressed my condolences and went on with the lesson.

He has come in several times since then, and always is in a very good mood and studies hard. He has since told me that he is planning a trip around the world (in only 10 days) in August, something he promised his late wife he would do. Whenever he comes in I always find myself observing him, thinking, "How does he really feel? What goes on with him when no one else can see? Why isn't he taking time off to grieve?" Seeing him continue on with his life has given me a lot of strength and reaffirmed that, no matter what, we all have to keep looking forward. No matter what, a smiling face and upbeat attitude does not mean the person's life is all roses, so no need to feel envious about another's perceived happiness.

The second also involves a student of mine, a young woman. I have never seen this woman not smiling. Ever. She is always very cheerful, friendly, and laughs it off when she makes mistakes. Of course, she makes so many mistakes that the anal part of me has sometimes gotten irritated, thinking she wasn't taking her studies seriously and was wasting my time. Until one day a couple of weeks ago when I asked,

"You are always smiling. You look so happy all the time. What's your secret?"

She told me that, when she was young, she almost drowned in the bathtub. Her mother saved her. She didn't give me anymore details than that, but she said in Japanese, "After that, I decided that simply being alive was reason enough to be happy."

To make such a profound realization at such a young age really moved me. I complimented her on her strength and courage and continued on with the lesson. In this case, her reason for being happy was triggered by a very traumatic event at a very young age, which shaped her way of thinking for the rest of her life. And here I was, being irritated because I thought she wasn't being serious enough.

Again, my realization that a person's current state of happiness is no way indicative of their entire life was reinforced. After having these two experiences, I've made a point to be much more patient with my other students, because I have no idea what's going on behind the scenes. I've also become more patient and open-minded about strangers I run across every day. Because you never know what is going on with that person.

Someone bumps into you on the sidewalk and doesn't apologize? Sure he or she might be rude or aggressive. In fact, that's often the first thought anybody has. Then you get angry because the person didn't properly apologize and you carry that anger with you the rest of the day. Perhaps bumping into someone else, and not apologizing to them! Paying the anger forward, so to speak. However, maybe the person who bumped into you is normally a very nice and considerate person, but something has happened that has caused them to drop that considerateness for the time being. Unfortunately, the both of you crossed paths at a bad time. However, keeping an open mind helps you stay stress-free and keeps those negative, emotionally-draining thoughts at bay.

You never really know what is going on with another person, so try not to let their behaviors get to you. More often than not, it has nothing to do with you. By keeping an open mind and exploring all of the possibilities, you have more compassion for your fellow man, and you keep your spirits up. This is difficult to do when you yourself are in a bad mood, but I encourage you all to try it. Keep an open mind and focus on your own happiness, and other things will fall into place.